Written by Andrew Penner
After zigzagging through the woods for twenty minutes, give or take, my son, Nelson, and I broke through the trees and reached the ridge. The view – a deep and dramatic hoodoo-lined canyon framed with snow-capped mountains in the distance – was picture-worthy, to say the least. So, naturally, we got off our bikes, took some selfies, and soaked it all in. Our bikes n’ birdies binge in the Columbia Valley was off to a memorable start.
Over the years I’ve ventured to the Columbia Valley numerous times for some golf and good times. From Calgary the journey is always quick and painless; a beautiful three hour drive through the Bow Valley, past Banff, and through the gorgeous mountain scenes of Kootenay National Park. And, coming down the hill into Radium Hot Springs – the warm weather, the hot pools, the Columbia Valley Wetlands, the quaint motels, the flagsticks flickering in the pure mountain air – is always a great feeling. As you cruise through the towering cliffs of Sinclair Canyon and enter the valley, it’s like you’ve entered another world.
A world where bikes and birdies (and many other good things!) are, for me, always front and centre. I’m passionate about both mountain biking and golf and the Columbia Valley always delivers.
Of course, the golf and mountain biking partnership is a match made in heaven throughout the Kootenay Rockies. Interestingly, the mountain biking hot spots often seem to be the golfing hot spots as well! And there is no finer example of this than in the Columbia Valley.
In terms of the best trail networks in the valley, my personal favourite has always been the fast-and-flowy singletrack at Lillian Lake. One of the most popular trails here (one of my all-time favourites; and I’ve ridden everywhere from Cumberland to Calgary and many places in between) is The Johnson. Although this 10.1-km trail is rated black (it rides more like a blue but features some exposed sections near the cliff edges), decent intermediate riders will have a blast on it. It’s a riveting ridge with some of the best scenery you’ll encounter in the region. (Beginners can ride the 3.2-km green Junior Johnson trail, which zigzags through the forest and doesn’t go along the ravine.)
Downhill daredevils – you know who you are! – absolutely rave about the trail networks at Swansea Mountain and Panorama. Although I have yet to ride at Swansea (most people use personal shuttles – friends with trucks! – to hitch rides to the top of the network and ride down), I’ve certainly enjoyed a few downhill days at Panorama, which is often regarded as one of the best downhill bike parks in British Columbia. The classic beginner/intermediate trail, Let it Ride, is a fabulous green trail with plenty of bumps and berms to get you hooked! Interestingly, this is the only time my wife, Dawn, a beginner rider, has ever gone downhilling and she absolutely loved it. (Fingers crossed she goes again with me!)
In terms of the golf, this area – including Panorama, Invermere, Radium Hot Springs, Fairmont Hot Springs, Windermere Valley, and Spur Valley; otherwise known as The Columbia Valley Golf Trail – is pure gold for golfers.
On my latest father-son adventure down the CV Golf Trail – after our joy ride down The Johnson – Nelson and I pegged it up at The Springs in Radium. (Later on we also played Fairmont Mountainside, Copper Point, and Eagle Ranch.) Beautifully positioned high on the bluffs above the Columbia Valley Wetlands and designed by prolific Canadian architect Les Furber, The Springs, with its dramatic and non-stop valley and mountain scenes, eptiomizes what golf along the Columbia Valley Golf Trail is all about.
As we stood high on the 18th tee on the spectacular closing run on the course – the vast wetlands fanning out below- my son said, “Dad, this is awesome. We should do this every spring.”
“Done,” was my quick reply.